Photographing Paradise: Costa Rica's Stunning Landscapes

Photographing Paradise: Costa Rica's Stunning Landscapes

Costa Rica is a place of breathtaking beauty, with lush rainforests, towering volcanoes, and pristine beaches. From the misty cloud forests of Monteverde to the remote beaches of Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica offers an endless array of photo opportunities. Whether you are a professional photographer or an amateur with a passion for capturing nature's beauty, Costa Rica is a destination you should not miss.

Costa Rica is a relatively small country in Central America. It is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, making it a dream destination for nature photographers. And although the focus of this article is on Costa Rica's landscapes, its wildlife is at least equally spectacular and vibrant.

How to Get to Costa Rica

From most parts of the USA, direct flights that take no more than six hours are available to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. If you are traveling from Europe, you'll also find some direct options. Those usually take around 12 hours and are pricey. The cheapest flights are via the USA. If you don't mind a travel time of 20 hours or more and the trouble of dealing with US customs, this can save a lot of money.

Getting Around Costa Rica

The best way to explore Costa Rica is by renting a car. Due to the road conditions in many parts of the country, you should at least rent an SUV, ideally with a 4-wheel drive option. It can be expensive if you plan to stay more than a few weeks, especially when visiting during the high season. Between late November and April, car and hotel prices are significantly higher compared to the rainy season.

I was visiting Costa Rica for nearly three months last year, and renting a car for the whole time was out of the question. Some people buy a car and later sell it if they stay in a country for a long time. But you should know your way around cars and speak the local language well.

There is also another option: to travel along the east and west coast of Costa Rica, you can use buses. Several companies offer regular trips up and down the coast for a few dollars. If you don't mind public transport, this is a good way of seeing the coastal areas of Costa Rica. You won't have the same flexibility as with a rental car, but at the coast, you'll find plenty of walkable photo spots close to major towns. Examples are Manuel Antonio, Uvita, and Puerto Viejo.

For exploring the mountains and the central parts of the country, I would advise against it. There, it's too limiting for photographers that need to get around. That's why I split my time in Costa Rica. I first explored the west coast for a month by bus, then rented a car for three weeks to explore the mountains, and later finished my stay on the east coast, again traveling by bus.

Landscape Photography in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a very diverse country with something to photograph for every type of nature photographer.


On its eastern side, Costa Rica faces the Caribbean, and in the west, the wild Pacific Ocean. If you have enough time, you should visit both sides, because they are very different.

Puerto Viejo, for example, is a tourist hub in the southeast of the country. It's easy to get there by bus from San Jose. The best place to stay for photography is Manzanillo, a few kilometers south of Puerto Viejo. You'll have a national park with a spectacular coastline close by and a beach featuring a shipwreck right in front of the town.

I've been up and down the east coast of Costa Rica and found this area to offer the best seascape photography. In Puerto Viejo itself, the beaches are nice but also very crowded. With a lot of surf and sea grass, it was hard to get good photos there while I was visiting. The coastal forest at Punta Cocles was the only spot where I got lucky.

On Costa Rica's west coast it was much easier to find great photo spots. The beaches there are wild and lined by countless palm trees. While there are places as crowded as Puerto Viejo, the sheer amount of beaches makes it easy to find areas that give you the Robinson Crusoe feeling.

The beaches of the Marino Ballena National Park are one example. Uvita is the most popular beach in the park and, especially around sunset during low tide, a fantastic photo location.


Costa Rica is not only known for its pristine beaches. It's also a country full of waterfalls. Areas like Bajos del Toro reminded me of the Columbia River gorge in Oregon. Within a radius of a few miles, you'll find countless waterfalls of different sizes and strengths. The most spectacular of them is the Catarata del Toro. It's part of a little park for which you have to pay an entrance fee of around $15. You can combine such a visit with a tour of additional waterfalls in the area.

Entrance fees are a common theme in Costa Rica. Most photogenic places are either part of National Parks or located on private land. As long as this helps the preservation of Costa Rica's nature, it is a good thing. But much of the money is used to develop access to those places. It brings more people, and because of that, many places begin to lose their natural beauty.

But there are still enough photo locations far off the beaten track. A resource to get information about such places is Que Buen Lugar. But when studying the different guides on this homepage, you'll find that even for remote locations, there's still an entrance fee, or you are required to hire a local guide.


A large part of Costa Rica is covered by dense woodland. Areas that stand out are the cloud forests of Monteverde and the Quetzales National Park. Those places are magical and full of photographic potential. Tapping into this potential requires time. I spent five days around Monteverde exploring the various trails. Finding good compositions in this chaotic environment is challenging. But if you follow enough trails, you'll eventually find some order within the moss-covered vegetation.


Costa Rica has several mountainous regions, with the highest mountain, Cerro Chirripo, reaching more than 3,800 meters. Cerro Chirripo National Park is one of the places I would have loved to visit, but it didn't fit into my itinerary. If you plan to visit Costa Rica and are looking for a mountain adventure, consider adding this place to your list.

If you are looking for a view that's easier to reach, the rolling hills around Monteverde provide you with several options. The best of them is the view from Cerro Pinocho. From there, you can see down to the Gulf of Nicoya.

In general, if you are interested in climbing mountains and photographing spectacular views, you need a car. Many trailheads are hard to reach by public transport. I should also mention that even with a car, it's not easy to find photogenic viewpoints because of the road conditions. Roads up into the mountains can get bumpy very quickly. It was at least my experience. So, you should consider renting a Jeep instead of a shiny SUV if you want to explore the mountains. Make sure you have a spare tire.


Despite being one of the most expensive countries in Central and South America, Costa Rica is a must-visit destination for photographers because of its wide array of breathtaking landscapes and natural wonders. One final piece of advice I want to give you for such a visit is: don't rush it. Try not to pack too much into your travel itinerary and allow yourself time to get to know the places you visit.

Michael Breitung's picture

Michael Breitung is a freelance landscape and travel photographer from Germany. In the past 10 years he visited close to 30 countries to build his high quality portfolio and hone his skills as a photographer. He also has a growing Youtube channel, in which he shares the behind the scenes of his travels as well as his knowledge about photo editing.

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Pete Coco's picture

Wonderful article and amazing photos, Michael! Thank you so much for sharing.

Michael Breitung's picture

Thanks Pete

Jon Kellett's picture

Costa Rica has been on my list for ages, but it's unlikely I'll ever get there... Too costly or too long to travel. According to Google Travel, $6,000NZ return to get there in 20.5 hours or $2,800NZ to get there in 33 hours. Eek!

I don't mind spending 24 hours in travel to get somewhere, but not at those prices :-(

Leo dj's picture

NZ ticket prices are crazy. A return ticket from Amsterdam to Costa Rica is €800. It's not on my list though. I find tropical beaches and forest a bit too much of he same and care much more for the rough wild variation of USA, Australia, New Zealand (just returned) and Asia (Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia..) with it's combination of landscapes, culture and safety. No latin America (apart from Cuba) or Africa (apart from Morocco) for me. You shouldn't complain with such a backyard. :). Though Europe isn't bad either.
Funny, each his own i guess.

Jon Kellett's picture

I've got a soft spot for SE Asia. Heading to Malaysia in March to shoot some apes and snakes. Really looking forward to shooting the snakes.

A trying to justify a holiday to Fiji, though there is a Cook Island that I'd also like to go to.

RE: NZ, I hope that you had a good time and that it was worth such a hike from Amsterdam! :-)

Leo dj's picture

New Zealand was a place i wanted to my whole life and it great! It was like visiting 6 countries. I travelled solo and intensely (7500 km driving and no rest days, but without a rush). Loved it.
Cool Malaysia. I havent been there. You can see orangutans!

Jon Kellett's picture

NZ is a bitch to drive sometimes. The roads tend to catch people out. It's funny how different the small towns are to any of the larger cities - Almost like another country. I love how NZ has different types of landscape as you progress downwards. I like Auckland, Taupo and Queenstown regions.

RE: Malaysia, this is my first trip to Malaysia. Will be based in Kuching for under a week. Really just a quick trip to shoot Orangutans, Proboscis Monkeys, Waggler's Vipers. Also keen to shoot Bronzeback and Keeled Pit Vipers. Next time I'll stay longer and try to find Orangutan in the wild instead of a sanctuary.

Michael Breitung's picture

I spent a few weeks in Malaysia last year. Seeing Orangutans in the wild is difficult because the natural environment in which they live is largely destroyed and replaced by palm oil pantations. We saw a few but they were usually high up in the trees, so bring a long lens. The preservation areas with the feeding stations are where most photos you see online are taken I think.

Proboscis are much easier to find, you'll have a great time!

Jon Kellett's picture

Yeah, most Orangutan photos are from sanctuaries, which is fine if you're not misrepresenting the image.

I'll be bringing a 200-600. This time the orangutans will be at a rehab sanctuary, next time I'll try to book a local guide to get me to Batang Ai. Going to Batang Ai normally has good success and it's in Sarawak.

Most people go to Sabah, which I'm not super keen on because it's more touristy (and a little dodgy for foreigners in general, "western looking" in particular).

For me the real score isn't any ape species, but close ups of snakes. Mind you, I've yet to shoot a Silver Langur so that'll be nice.

Les Dishman's picture

Agree. I've been to Costa Rica five times. Beautiful country, incredible biodiversity, and warm and friendly locals.

Colin McCroskey's picture

Great shots!
And great timing: we arrived in La Fortuna today, after a stop at Rio Celeste. 2 week trip, total.
Looking forward to Monteverde, Manuel Antonio, and Tamarindo.
Way too easy to get overwhelmed by the natural environment here, or distracted by a random monkey.
And those bumpy roads are serious. I recommend not eating right before driving them…